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Cynical Attitude Linked to Greater Dementia Risk in Your Golden Years
Your attitude and state of mind have a lot more to do with your health than you think. Actually, it’s capable of influencing more than just your mood but your physical health as well, including your brain.
A negative outlook on life can be particularly damaging, causing everything from depression to anxiety attacks, to pessimism as well as cynicism, according to recent research.
For those who have a deep mistrust of other people, those who suspect everyone of trying to cheat them, take an unfair advantage of them, those who believe most people are liars, or are simply not worthy of trust, they, too, are at an increased risk of developing dementia.
SEE ALSO: Dementia: The Facts Infographic
Older people who have high levels of distrust and cynicism can have a more than 2.5 times greater risk of developing dementia than those who have lower levels of these types of feelings. Cynical distrust would best be described as believing that most people are only interested in themselves and have no interest in looking out for the well-being of others or the community as a whole.
Some experts describe these feelings as a form of chronic anger. Growing research shows that these negative emotions, especially cynicism, can lead to poor health. These feelings and attitudes are dangerous in a multitude of ways.
For example, people who are cynical are much more likely to be overweight, exercise less, and smoke. They often struggle with stress, and often have higher levels of chronic inflammation, which is linked to diseases such as dementia.
Research has shown that women with hostile or cynical attitudes are much more likely to die prematurely. They also suffer from higher rates of death from heart disease than women who have more positive outlooks.
A recent study done at the University of Eastern Finland used 1,500 test subjects in 1997 that were between the age of 65 and 79. The subjects were examined for basic personality traits and characteristics including attitude and any signs of dementia, then these same subjects were tested and examined 10 years later. Those subjects that scored higher on a test on their cynicism tended to be heavier, smoke, and had tripled their risk of developing dementia as the other test subjects.
Those who are cynical suffer from a multitude of disorders such as:
- Stress – They tend to shun social activities so they do not receive support that might help to lower their stress levels.
- Poor oral health
- Inflammation – Cynical people often have increased markers of inflammation, which can be a major contributor to heart disease
- Increased metabolic burden
These recent studies show that your overall emotional health interacts in a continuous type of dance with your physical health; so much so that it’s impossible to separate the two.
The suppression of negative feelings such as rage, anger, isolation, and heartaches, along with a lack of intimacy are all “hidden” risk factors that can lead to heart disease and more.
Unfortunately, most cardiologists do not recognize that these emotional factors are the underlying cause of their patient’s risk factors such as overeating, smoking, high cholesterol levels and hypertension.
Negative emotions such as hostility and anger can set off a cascade of physical reactions that can reverberate throughout your body, including higher blood pressure, arterial tension, as well as an increase in overall heart rate. When you combine these things, this can prompt a change in the blood flow in a negative way that encourages the formation of blood clots as well as trigger inflammation.
One study showed that, when people feel angry, their risk of heart attack increases by five times as much and the risk of stroke increases three fold in the two hours that follow intense feelings of anger. This risk increases for those who have a history of heart problems.
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It sounds like something out of a movie, but emotions can truly trigger your genes to express themselves as healthy or as diseased. For those who feel chronically angry, cynical, or have uncontrolled outbursts of rage, they could be sabotaging their long term health without being aware of it. This is a great reason to work on overcoming emotional issues in your life; whether you need to learn how to relieve stress, or to get to the bottom of deep seated emotional issues and/or trauma that tend to leave people feeling angry at the world.
Positive feelings, regardless of what you call them: happiness, joy, well-being, optimism, or looking on the “bright side” of things, seems to go hand in hand with a healthier lifestyle and habits. Those who are in good spirits most of the time tend to eat healthier, exercise regularly, and sleep better than those who are cynical.
This could be a catch 22 type of situation where healthy habits lead to happier people which leads to better health, which leads to good moods and happy feelings, and those happy feelings lead people to want to eat better and be healthier. One study discovered that those positive feelings were connected to a lower risk of heart disease. Positive thoughts and positive attitudes are able to actually cause changes in your body that can decrease pain, chronic disease, provide stress relief, as well as strengthen the immune system.
So where hostility can increase your risk of chronic disease and heart problems, happiness can lower it. It’s a scientific fact that being happy can actually alter your genes. Researchers at UCLA discovered that those with deep feelings of happiness and well-being had lower levels of a gene that causes inflammatory response and stronger antibody and antiviral responses from their immune systems.
These things fall into an area called epigenetics; factors that are actually beyond the control of your genes, such as lifestyle, nutrition choices, and attitude that can change how your genes function. Your attitude can turn some of your genes off or on, for the better, or for worse. Research conducted in the past found that positive emotions appeared to have a role in the functioning of the immune system. These studies found that when people with positive outlooks were exposed to cold and flu viruses, they were less likely to get sick, and if they did, they had fewer symptoms. Regardless of the test subjects levels of education, body mass, self-esteem, or age, it was their attitude that seemed to improve their immune system response.
It seems as if some people are just, by nature, more positive than others, but this doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck with an angry or hostile attitude. If you know that you tend to be negative, you can actively work on changing that to become more positive. This doesn’t mean you have to be “Miss Mary Sunshine”, but you can improve and change your outlook with a little work. This will be very beneficial to your health, as well as bringing more joy into your life, and what could be wrong with that?
It’s not as hard as you might think. It’s those daily habits that you have control over that can either make or break your positive outlook. Below is a list of “happy habits” that have been shown to lead people towards positive thoughts and feelings. Try practicing some of these to improve your own happiness level.
- Giving: Help others anyway you can
- Relating: Connect with other people
- Exercising: Your body deserves to be taken care of
- Appreciation: Be grateful for the world around you
- Trying Out: Try to keep learning new things
- Direction: Make short and long term goals you can look forward to
- Resilience: Don’t fall down and out; bounce back!
- Emotion: Keep a positive outlook
- Acceptance: Feel comfortable about who you are
- Meaning: Be a part of something bigger
Did you notice that these suggestions spell out Great Dream?
Happy people tend to follow certain habits, beliefs, or personal rules that help them to create peace in their lives. Try to apply some of these to your own life:
- Learn to accept things that cannot be changed
- Let go of grudges
- Be your best self
- Be honest ( but be kind)
- See “problems” as “challenges”
- Express gratitude
- Learn to live with less “stuff”
- Have big dreams
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Eat well
- Treat everyone kindly
- Live in the present
- Speak well of others
- If you can’t speak well of others, say nothing
- Keep a regular schedule
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- Stop looking for approval from others
- Nurture social relationships
- Take time to listen to others
- Surround yourself with positive people
If you are cynical and find that you have a hard time trusting that people are good or that they have good intentions, try what’s called the “inverse paranoid principle.” This is not always easy, but it quickly becomes a habit once you get the hang of it. Paranoid, cynical people believe that the world is out to “get them” and they always picture the worst case scenario. For the inverse paranoid, they believe that every terrible thing that happens is ultimately for some bigger, better reason that will benefit you immensely. Perhaps that benefit will not come until far into the future, sometimes what happens is so terrible you simply cannot imagine how it could possibly turn out to be “good” but trust that, eventually, it will be beneficial, even if it’s so far into the future that you can’t see it from where you are standing.
Now there are some risk factors that cant be changed, such as age, genetic, or family history of disease. However, some things are under our control such as smoking, blood pressure, obesity, and alcohol use.
Our attitude and outlook on life is also our choice. It can bring us health or disease. So why not choose to be happy and healthy?